Know before you go

  • Published
  • By Randy Roughton
  • Defense Media Activity - San Antonio
The first time Tech. Sgt. Christina Gamez's husband deployed, she wanted to do everything herself, frustrating friends who wanted to help her. This time, she knows she will need her support network. She too is scheduled to deploy soon after her husband leaves this fall.

Master Sgt. Rodolfo Gamez of the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency at Lackland Air Force Base plans to leave next month for combat skills training at Fort Polk, La., before a 365-day deployment to Afghanistan. Christina, a financial analyst here, is scheduled to follow her husband for her own 365-day voluntary deployment in December.

The Air Force couple plans to blog about their experiences during their dual deployments to help prepare other Airmen so that they can "know before they go" on their own deployments.

Christina said she expects to encourage future deployers to "be prepared and even over-prepared; to look at every possible angle and to have a backup plan for everything that could possibly come up.

"I don't think I was prepared at all that first time," she said. "I didn't know how hard it was going to be. But, you can adapt. It's going to be tough and you never know what to expect. You just get through it because everything becomes routine and there are so many resources out there for you if you're just willing to accept them."

In her blog, Christina said she plans to share how her family prepares before deploying and how they cope with separation from each other, as well as their two children -- 4-year-old Tomas and 2-year-old Eva.

She says the children have become accustomed to their father being away for work, with two of his five previous deployments coming during their lives.

Rodolfo also is away on temporary duty assignments from 10 to 14 days a month. But this time will be different, with both mom and dad on extended assignments simultaneously.

Christina's parents will take the children when she follows her husband to Afghanistan in December. In addition to completing the Air Force's deployment checklist and having an updated family care plan, the parents said they also continue to prepare Tomas and Eva for the transition to a year with their grandparents.

Rodolfo and Christina are also keeping a journal for their children to read, "so they will know what we were thinking and feeling leading up to the deployment and while we were away from them," Christina said.

They've also established "goal dates" to give the children days they can mark off the calendar to work toward various rewards, and have started gardens they will help to tend at Grandma's house.

Once the couple learned Rodolfo was set to deploy again, Christina had her chief call to find out where she stood on the deployment roster. She learned the Air Force Personnel Center already knew her name, and she was on the short list. She would more than likely be tasked in the next two to three months, and there were several more deployment slots coming down the pipeline. It was at that point the couple decided to take positive control of the situation and lessen the time the family was separated.

They said they decided she would volunteer for her own 365-day deployment to lessen the impact on their family, especially on the children. They believe their experience shows the importance Air Force families should place on knowing where they stand in the deployment cycle.

The 365-day non-volunteer deployment schedule is based on each Airman's short-tour return date.

AFPC officials said several factors are considered when tasking members  for a 365-day deployment.

"Vulnerability to be selected as a non-volunteer for a 365-day deployment is based on the number of short tours and an Airman's short-tour return date," said Jeffrey Gatcomb, the AFPC officer assignments policy and systems chief. "Enlisted members can check the EQUAL listing for their overseas vulnerability, which will give them a better idea on how vulnerable they are for an overseas assignment or deployment. Officers are encouraged to talk to their AFPC assignments team."

The Gamezes used those channels to help prepare and make the best decision for their family.

"The last thing we wanted was to be unaware and to get caught off guard with me deployed and then find out she has to follow shortly after," he said. "So in the interest of being proactive, we found out she was No. 2 on the list and we had a difficult decision to make.

"We chose the better of the situations to have some type of positive control in our hands to see where we wanted to be. That was to remain together and have the most minimal time away from our kids."

As the time nears, the Gamez family is spending as much time together as possible. They recently took a trip to Disney World in Orlando and are already planning a return vacation to Florida in the spring after the sergeants return from Afghanistan.

Rodolfo and Christina said they're confident their preparations will ensure that their children are in the best possible situation while they're away.

This is just one reason why having an updated Air Force Form 357, or family care plan, is important, they said.

"It's vital," Rodolfo said. "It's no different than a will because you never know when you're going to get caught in a situation. Fortunately for us, we've got a great supporting cast. Those people outlined in our family care plan are there and we've got more people volunteering to provide that support.

"Good planning meets opportunity and that's how you achieve success. I think we've done so with our family care plan and we're well-prepared to make this transition," he said.

Christina said she hopes her blog will help her fellow Airmen make those hard choices and follow through on their preparations -- to "know before they go," making sure their families and homes are properly cared for while they fulfill their responsibilities during deployment.